Legume-free – the latest trend in pet food

Legume-free pet food isn’t just trendy – it’s a health-conscious choice for many dogs and cats. Here’s why you should consider it when recommending a diet for your animal patients.

From grain-free diets to those made with cricket protein, there’s no shortage of trends when it comes to pet food. But while some of these novel foods are popular for all the wrong reasons, others tout a number of health benefits that can help dogs and cats thrive. Legume-free pet foods, which are made without peas, beans, lentils and other similar plant ingredients, fit into this latter category. They’re trendy and healthy – and here’s why.

Defining legumes

Popular legumes often found in pet foods include the following:

  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans
  • Peanuts

“In order for a pet food to be classified as legume-free, it can’t contain any of these, or other legumes or pulses, in its formulation,” says Tom Cameron, DVM. “Pulses are dry edible seeds of certain legume plants. Examples include dried beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils. Not all legumes are pulses, but all pulses are legumes.”

The problem with these ingredients

Often considered healthy plant-based protein alternatives, legumes have gotten a good rap over the years. But there are a number of negative effects of feeding legumes that many pet parents – and veterinarians – don’t realize.

  • “Legumes contain plant chemicals (called anti-nutrients) that can bind or inactivate certain minerals (taurine) and vitamins,” says Dr. Cameron. “Anti-nutrients can be minimized by soaking, sprouting or fermenting, but often this isn’t done prior to including legumes in pet food recipes.”
  • Legumes (and all plants) contain lectins, which are a defense against microorganisms, pests, and insects. Lectins can be pro-inflammatory, and are resistant to digestion.
  • More importantly, meats are more appropriate sources of proteins for dogs and cats than legumes (plant proteins).

A growing trend

At the turn of the century, allergies in pets were very common. Many cases were thought to be the result of grain in pet foods (corn, wheat and soy). In response to this information, pet food manufacturers started making grain-free foods. Legumes were substituted for corn, wheat and soy in an attempt to find new inexpensive protein sources, and starches without gluten. As grain-free pet foods became more popular, legumes became common protein sources.

But despite this major shift, food sensitivities in dogs and cats persisted. As more studies uncovered the truth about legumes – that they’re not as healthy as once thought – the trend shifted yet again. Today, legume-free foods are becoming a more recognized option for sensitive pets who suffer from allergies and/or inflammatory digestive diseases – and for the prevention of these issues.

Making the right choice for your patients

Before recommending any pet food, steps should be taken to ensure it meets a patient’s unique nutritional requirements. “Be sure it’s labeled ‘complete and balanced’ using AAFCO standards,” says Dr. Cameron. “And if the pet has previously been fed legume-based foods, order a full blood panel (CBC/SMA/Thyroid panel/taurine level).  Supplement with taurine if levels are low.”

Very simply, legumes are plant proteins, and dogs and cats have evolved eating meats, making them the most natural foods for our pets. Before recommending a food for your patients – especially those with allergies – consider the many benefits of legume-free!


Dr. Cameron earned his DVM from Michigan State University in 1982. A long-time proponent of canine and feline nutrition, he speaks nationally on the role of therapeutic nutrition in veterinary medicine. After 25 years of private practice, Dr. Cameron spent nine years as Director of Veterinary Education and Technical Support at Standard Process Inc. Other areas of interest include photonic therapy and cold laser treatments. He continues to teach veterinarians and pet owners how to use nutrition and targeted supplementation to optimize health. Dr. Cameron currently serves as a consulting veterinarian for Nature’s Logic, a 100% natural pet food with no synthetic vitamins or minerals.


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